Prevention of Embarrassment
I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough information to complete this series, because our leaders and entertainers never do anything embarrassing. Now that I have your attention, please stop giggling or cursing and continue reading.
When we speak about acts of embarrassment, we tend to think of any action that can publicly demean our protectee. We have to consider not only acts undertaken by the protectee themselves, but also their family and friends. There is no shortage of examples, but I have plucked a couple out of the tabloids for your reflection.
While each case has its own lesson, the individual protection specialist must make up their own mind as to their expected degree of preventive involvement in any situation. Upon seeing evidence of potentially embarrassing conduct or situations, what do you see as your responsibility? What does your protectee see as your responsibility? What behaviors are “embarrassing”?
When Jimmy Carter was president, the press often found fodder in the acts of his brother Billy. William Alton Carter III was the president’s younger brother who helped run the family’s peanut business, but his antics were often the lead story in the evening news.
While his brother was leading the country, William Alton engaged in behaviors ranging from urinating on an airport runway in front of the press, to leading a total of three delegations to Libya prior to being registered as a Libyan agent, and receiving approximately $220,000 in loans. The press later dubbed this scandal as “Billygate”.
While his life was a daily matter of interest for the media and most television comedy shows at one time or another, it did not seem to affect the President’s ability to govern. And, all things considered, the former Marine (Semper Fi!) and one-time mayoral candidate was not without his contributions to our society; as I myself must confess that many years ago my refrigerator contained at least one six-pack of Billy Beer.
Gary Hart was a Democrat Senator from Colorado, serving from 1975 – 1987. In 1988, he was considered a front-runner in the US Presidential election. However, rumors began circulating that Hart was having an extramarital affair.
In an interview that appeared in the New York Times on May 3, 1987, Hart responded to the rumors by challenging the media, “Follow me around. I don’t care. I’m serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They’ll be very bored.”
Demonstrating a flaw in his attempt at reverse psychology, The Miami Herald had been investigating Hart’s alleged womanizing for weeks before the “dare” appeared in the New York Times. Two reporters from the Miami Herald had staked out his residence and observed an attractive young woman leaving Hart’s Washington, D.C., townhouse on the evening of May 2.
The Herald published the story on May 3, the same day Hart’s dare appeared in print, and the scandal spread rapidly through the national media. Hart and his allies attacked the Herald for rushing the story into print, claiming that it had unfairly judged the situation without finding out the facts. But, by then the damage had been done.
A photograph of Hart wearing a “Monkey Business” T-shirt, seen on the dock with a young lady on his lap, was subsequently published in the National Enquirer. In the background was the 83-foot Broward luxury yacht, perhaps named after the capitalistic efforts of Hominidae …or the occasional on-board activity. On May 8, 1987, a week after the story broke, Hart abandoned his political ship and dropped out of the race.
Between November 1995 and March 1997, reports allege that Monica Lewinsky had an intimate relationship with President Bill Clinton. She later testified that the relationship involved oral sex in the Oval Office and other sexual contact but that sexual intercourse did not occur.
In April 1996, Lewinsky’s superiors relocated her job to the Pentagon because they felt she was spending too much time around Clinton. Lewinsky confided in a co-worker named Linda Tripp about her relationship with the President. Beginning in September 1997, Tripp began secretly recording their telephone conversations regarding the affair with Clinton. Clinton was later impeached.
While many of us might not recognize Texas attorney Harry Whittington’s name, we are all familiar with the hunting accident February 11, 2006, in which he received bird-shot injuries to his face, neck and torso.
While his injuries were nothing to laugh at, and we all recognize and appreciate the safety issues involved with hunting and handling firearms, the incident reflected adversely on VPOTUS Cheney. The talk show hosts and tabloids had found another source of revenue for more than a month.
Jeb Bush did some great things for Florida, but his daughter made her own headlines with reports of cocaine abuse and contempt of court charges. Concerns about drug abuse by our offspring is an issue that involves all parents one way or another, including our current VPOTUS. These incidents cause embarrassment to the Protectee and their family, but also raise ethical issues for protection specialists who are certified or commissioned law enforcement officers.
Law enforcement officers charged with protection, need a protocol in place in the event they witness criminal activity in the course of their assignments. When they witness criminal activity, are they still acting as a protection specialist, or are they now a police officer as defined under their jurisdiction’s laws or agency’s policies?
Protection specialists also need a plan in place in case their Protectee goes (intentionally) missing as in the June 2009 incident with South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who went hiking on the Appalachian Trail and ended up in Argentina.
How can you protect your Principal if they don’t tell you where they are? Are there liability issues present if your Protectee gets assaulted in a foreign country, but you didn’t know they were out of the state?
In Hollywood…uh…enough said. The difference between entertainers messing up and politicians messing up is that we have extremely low expectations regarding the behaviors of the Hollywood A-through-D list celebrities. On the other hand, we expect our government, corporate and religious leaders to lead…well, by example.
If an actor makes a stupid remark in front of the cameras, the intelligent among us will shrug and say, “So what…he’s just an actor…” Our society is, unfortunately rife with the intellectually-challenged, who believe that just because their favorite singer endorses a particular product, politician or process, that they must too.
While they may have the best of intentions, very few entertainers have any real experience in world politics, but let one of them make a well-publicized “peace mission” somewhere and we’ll forget all about their felony records, domestic abuse or lack of formal education or management experience.
If they are “outed” in a public trial for patronizing a famous Madam’s place of business does it affect an entertainer’s career? Hardly. However, I think Eliot Spitzer is still looking for a job.
Each of us have our own ethical threshold that we must balance with our sense of responsibility. In our role as protectors, we are obligated to advise our clients/employers if we see something that we honestly feel could cause them trouble down the road.
It is up to them as to how well they will heed our advice. I have always used a three-pronged test for my personal conduct and have shared this philosophy often with co-workers and employers. When we are considering an action we must ask ourselves:
• Is it legal?
• Is it ethical?
• How will it sound on television at seven o’clock Sunday evening?
Just because an action is legal, doesn’t mean it is necessarily ethical. And just because something is both legal and ethical, doesn’t mean that a journalist won’t make you look like a complete idiot Sunday night in front of the camera. Finally, remember this: YouTube is just a click away.
Rick Colliver has served as the global security director for two multi-national corporations with operations in 24 time zones, and has managed protection details in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. He is the course developer and lead instructor in the Principal Protection program at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy and is an adjunct instructor in protective operations through several police, military and academic organizations. His book, “Principal Protection; Lessons Learned” is due out in summer 2010.